FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE, A
Mexican peasant turned outlaw Juan (Rod Steiger) meets his match one day on the dusty road where Juan holds up stagecoaches, as John Mallory (James Coburn) rides into view on a motorcycle. John, a dynamite obsessed IRA killer on the run from the British, reluctantly agrees to help Juan achieve a life-long dream - to break into the bank in the nearby big town. Both adventurers have their own separate agendas, but they are drawn together, even as they are drawn into the Mexican Revolution as they try to stay alive while getting ahead.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The film opens with a close up of the lower part of a tree trunk on which ants are crawling feverishly. They are sent flying and drenched in piss as an unseen urinator lets them have it. As we pan up the legs, just in time to see hands fumbling to close the fly, we see a sweaty peasant in a black hat, his stubbled and bearded face a picture of irreverence and bravado. By the time this same face looks distraught into the camera at the end of the film, its owner will have been tested in the fires of fear, bathed in an uneasy friendship, battled for his life and lost some of the only things he cared about in the world.
On the way, he will have met a very different man; one who doesn't shout, doesn't shrink from danger, carries a demon or two and looks a hundred times better and healthier. Opposites, yet fate (and the writers) had them thrown together in revolutionary Mexico.
Sergio Leone will rest in peace, now that this under valued film of his is finally restored and re-released as originally intended. There have been truncated versions (with various titles, including Once Upon A Time ... The Revolution, after Once Upon A Time in the West three years before it). John Kirk, who is devoting his career to restoring MGM/UA titles, finds this film the most personally satisfying, now that it being rediscovered and reappraised.
It has its flaws, though. There are a couple of jumps in the story that seem as though a scene is still missing, including one in which Juan and his band watch a train speed past and then notice that John (watching from the other side of the track) has jumped on board. The next scene is Juan and his band on board the train. A similar jump occurs a little later, but is not as jarring.
And if you don't know, you won't care that John Mallory' character is historically inaccurate. He is meant to be an IRA killer on the run from British police (for crimes we see in romantic flashbacks - romantic both in nature and treatment); but the IRA was not yet formed at the time of the Maxican Revolution. However, this does offer confirmation that Sergio Leone was pushing a political barrow in the film. The opening titles are followed by a Marx quote about revolution; plus there are several opportunities to talk about Revolution (capital R) in the film where the poor and oppressed are portrayed as jolly good revolutionaries. In an early scene showing Juan and his modus operandi as a stagecoach bandit, Leone has a series of extreme close ups of the well to do privileged (and a priest) stuffing food into their faces in front of the evidently hungry (though pot bellied) Juan.
So it is arguable that Leone used the IRA (probably unaware of its exact history) as the breeding ground for John Mallory for good political reasons: here was a revolutionary group bucking its rulers - just like in Mexico. He shows John's crime but he sidesteps the moral issues, concentrating on the one sided emotional picture he wants to paint about John. Today, he would never get away with such a terrorist character without being horse whipped by public opinion. Especially if he made him as sympathetic as he makes Mallory.
But, perhaps because the film appeared in a butchered form and was quickly written off, the issue never surfaced.
Today, the film retains its extraordinary power, driven in large part by the two central performances. And not just the performances, but the macho chemistry between the broiling temperament of Steiger's Juan and the cucumber cool of Coburn. Violent, lyrical, engaging and driven by one of Ennio Morricone's most exceptional, unpredictable scores, A Fistful of Dynamite has all the wallop of a large stick of TNT.
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Giu la testa (aka Duck You Sucker)
CAST: Rod Steiger, James Coburn, Rimolo Valli, Domingo Antoine
PRODUCER: Fulvio Morsella
DIRECTOR: Sergio Leone
SCRIPT: Sergio Leone, Sergio Donati, Luciano Vincenzoni
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guiseppe Ruzzolini
EDITOR: Nino Baragli
MUSIC: Ennio Morricone
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrea Crisanti
RUNNING TIME: 157 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Re-released Melbourne: June 26 - July 6, 2005. Sydney: September 15 - 29, 2005. Other cities to follow.